Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet

Football fans bundling up for tonight's game may look back at the past week's temperatures and the forecast of almost endless snow, the hazardous roads and the threat of frostbite, and trot out that well-worn excuse for Pittsburgh's population decline: the weather. It's just that simple: The Sun Belt thrives and the Rust Belt ails because of the weather. Why live someplace cold, gray, rainy, snowy, icy and miserable when you could live sunkissed and coatless under Spanish moss or palms?

I used to rebut this with the names Boston and Chicago, but now there's an even more dramatic counterexample: Calgary.

Calgary is a place most of us would catagorize as climatologically uninhabitable. The average daily high temperature is below freezing December through February, and the daily mean temperature is below freezing November through March -- five months of the year. There is measurable snowfall from September through May. Just as air conditioning makes life bearable in Phoenix, the Plus 15 system of raised and heated walkways makes getting around Calgary on foot possible in winter. Oh, and the summers are rainy.

But Calgary is riding the oil boom seeping from the sands around Fort McMurray, Alberta, kicked into high gear by improved extraction techniques and trouble in the Middle East. The population of the Calgary Economic Region was under 1 million in 1996; it has been steadily growing by as much as 4% per year since then and is projected to approach 1.4 million by 2013. In 2007, Calgary and Edmonton (farther north and even bleaker) absorbed over 10,000 Canadians apiece from other provinces -- hip, temperate Vancouver garnered only about 3,600. And many of the new residents are young, making Calgary one of Canada's youngest cities with an average age in the 2006 Census of 35.7; Vancouver and romantic Montreal are comparatively elderly, with average ages over 39. (Figures from Calgary Economic Development, with help from Statistics Canada.)

Pittsburgh looks balmy by comparison. If you have a growing economy and plenty of jobs, people -- particularly the young, ambitious and hardy -- will put on their wool socks and zip up their parkas to join the party. A good salary will allow you to fly to the beach. I'll leave it to economic development experts to debate what Pittsburgh's biggest problems are, but as much as I hate shoveling, sniffling, static shocks, ice and mittens, I think it's time to quit pointing the finger (however numb and stiff) at the weather.


3 Responses to "Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet"

Schultz said... 1/18/2009 8:41 PM

Awesome first post Sam. I put the blame on the failed policies and leadership of our local government. We have some tremendous assets here in the burgh, both physical and intellectual. It is unfortunate that our local leaders care more about steeler rallies than capitalizing on those assets.

Bram Reichbaum said... 1/18/2009 9:17 PM

Frigid weather isn't a deal breaker if you're a city, but it's definitely an inhibiting factor. When people decide to relocate because of "Aw, fudge it already", they often relocate to places like San Diego (which is Spanglish for "El Dorado"). So the low-hanging fruit is out.

Welcome to the jungle!

EdHeath said... 1/20/2009 6:32 AM

Yes, good post. The funny thing about economic booms is the places they often show up. Alabama and Georgia have been held up as having isolated pockets of rust belt success stories. Yet both can be mean places to live, with hot temperatures and punishing humidity. Even Florida, that wonderful retirement state, has hurricanes and flying cockroaches.

I wouldn’t entirely agree with Schultz that the local government is to blame for our mess, but a better local government would help us, and it is the thing that is more in our control.

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Pittsblog 2.0 is written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh. Send email to michael.j.madison[at] Mike also blogs at, on law and technology. Chris Briem of Null Space drops by from time to time.

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